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Protecting the vines: State officials quarantine 162 square miles of Northern California

March 9, 2010 | 12:38 pm

Wine In an attempt to try to quash the spread of a moth that’s threatening California’s vineyards, the state Department of Food and Agriculture announced Tuesday that it is quarantining 162 square miles – a swath that covers wine country in Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties.

The bug in question is the European grapevine moth, whose larvae come out early in the spring to munch on grape bud clusters or flowers or, later, to feed on ripe grapes. The larvae were first spotted in a trap in the Oakville area last September. CDFA officials said that the grape grower subsequently lost his entire harvest.

The quarantine comes as state officials push to protect California’s grape and wine industries: The insect has previously destroyed vineyards in the Middle East, Chile and Europe. It is unclear how the insect arrived in the Golden State.

“I fully understand that quarantines impact both the public and our growers,” state Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said in a statement. However, he said, “this quarantine will help us ensure that the infestation doesn’t have an opportunity to spread.”

The news of the moth’s arrival is the latest blow to California vintners, who are struggling to survive amid plummeting land values and a shift to less expensive bottles by recession-wary consumers.

CDFA officials are asking that residents and agriculture producers in the quarantined area to check out this list of fruits and plants and, if they own them, to not remove the items from their property. (The produce, though, can be eaten on site.)

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Netting protects a California vineyard from birds and other pests. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times